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Maps as Primary Resources

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Social Studies +3 Age Levels Elementary (9 to 12 years old), Middle School (13 to 15 years old), High School (16 to 18 years old)

Introduction:  How can we use primary sources to learn more about the world around us and how it changes over time.  By applying Project Zero routines, student groups explore maps over time and discuss why/how they change.    


Provide the students with a piece of the Waldsemuller map and have them use the Parts, Purpose, Complexities thinking routine(slide1) or the See Think Wonder routine(slide2).  Usually, I change the terms to fit the activity, so in this case I use Observe, Reflect, and Question.  I tell them to observe and question first.  What are you seeing and why is it there?  What other things do you see but not understand?  Then they go back and reflect on what they think the map is of and how it might be part of a bigger map and what that means.   Generally the questions and observation lead the discussion and I let the students work together to talk about what their map parts have and others do not.  

Once students have finished their observations of the map pieces, show them the whole map(slide3) put together and discuss the history of the map.  What does it look like? Is it the same way our maps look today? Why or why not? Have a discussion about when the map was made, how, and who made it, along with the history of the time period.  How do you think maps have changed since then?

Next, show them the map from 1854 and compare and contrast the two maps.  Discuss the changes in history and why the maps may look so different.  Continue going through each of the maps and ask how the maps have changed over time and why.  Explain the importance of using a primary resource for a map as opposed to a secondary resource.  

Finally, show the last two maps and discuss how maps can be used for more than just showing places, but also for seismographic activity, deforestation, etc.  Discuss what has changed in NYC over the last 200 years and discuss why it might be useful to have that old map?   (Writing a historical novel, seeing where ancestors lived, etc.).


I generally don't do a wrap up activity, as the students go into their social studies classes and continue learning about maps and creating their own there.